In a story worthy of a Dostoevsky novel, the remains of a man who was tortured to death in Prague have proven to belong to Czech Catholic priest Josef Toufar, the “Miracle Priest” who died from torture at the hands of the Communist secret service (StB) in 1950.
In April 2014, the Czech Catholic Church initiated the cause of beatification of Father Toufar, who was arrested and tortured for his unwillingness to claim responsibility for the so-called “Cihost Miracle,” which occurred in 1949. The beatification process, which contends that Toufar was a martyr killed out of hatred for the faith, resulted in the eventual exhumation of the mass grave where he was suspected to have been buried.
Toufar served as parish priest in Cihost, where the alleged miracle of the moving cross occurred on the third Sunday of Advent in December 1949. During his homily, Father Toufar told his congregation that there was no need to look elsewhere for Jesus, because he is here, and pointed to the tabernacle with his hand. According to eyewitnesses, his astonished parishioners saw that the crucifix placed above the tabernacle bowed first to the right, then to the left and then stayed slightly inclined.
Since the priest had his back to the altar from the pulpit, he saw none of this.
Soon after, the parish was visited by various heads of the Communist secret police because the news of the “miracle” had begun to attract the attention of many of the faithful, and was reportedly responsible for the conversion of a communist who had been an atheist. The case landed on the desk of President Klement Gottwald, known as the “Stalin of Czechoslovakia” for his ferocious purges, who was in the midst of preparations for a massive anti-religious campaign.
In January 1950, the StB, disguised as newspaper correspondents, dragged the 47-year-old priest into a car and took him to the Valdice Prison where he remained a prisoner. The transcript from his first interrogation, when he was still capable of discernment, reveals a simple priest who limited himself to stating the facts of what had occurred. The priest said that he had told the faithful “not to see in what happened either a miracle or a positive or negative sign… We know only that the cross moved… The Lord has shown us that he is really in our midst, in the tabernacle.”
Police were instructed to extort by any means necessary a confession that the priest had fabricated the miracle by installing a mechanism to move the cross, with the intent of filming a propaganda video. In the following days, Father Toufar was repeatedly beaten and brutally tortured until, on February 22, he succumbed to the torture and signed a confession produced by the police which recognized him guilty of having faked the miracle under instructions from the Vatican. Three days later, he died of a burst stomach ulcer following a brutal beating, with the official cause of death registered as “peritonitis.”
Toufar was buried in a mass grave at the Prague-Dablice cemetery under the name Zouhar.
Soon after, the Czechoslovak Interior Minister Václav Nosek initiated a smear campaign against Toufar, asking the press to “work together to explain to the people the lies and stories of this kind.” Numerous defamatory articles followed, with rich photomontages and caricatures that denigrated the miracle of the cross.
Toufar’s family was not informed of the location of his remains, but from 1954 on they campaigned for his exhumation. Recent forensic tests of remains thought to be his have shown that they do indeed belong to the priest. The family will now receive the urn with his remains several days before the burial that will be held in Cihost, east Bohemia, on Sunday, July 12.
Father Toufar’s beatification process is likely to last for several years.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome